From a viticultural point of view the presence of soils with a well-developed profile underlain by clay on the gently sloping hills of Hawke’s Bay is also an advantage. Such clay soils, like many limestones, have the ability to retain moisture, enabling its slow release during summer and autumn. This tendency encourages the berries to develop flavour and colour from their deeply penetrating roots as the growing season proceeds.
The mainly younger gravel terraces of the rivers also provide soils suitable for viticulture, most of them being well drained. Some viticulturists would suggest too well drained, making irrigation essential. In addition, many of these clays and gravels have hard pans at varying depths beneath the surface. Some winegrowers favour ripping these soils to a depth of about a metre to allow the roots to penetrate more deeply. Others prefer to be more cautious because, on some soils, freeing the roots allows them to reach more fertile horizons and encourages the vines to become too vigorous. The gravels and the clays do allow the grapes to develop different flavours and aromas, giving winegrowers the opportunity to produce a range of different wines. Hawke’s Bay, therefore, has the two main types of soils – clays (Saint-Emilion) and gravels (Graves) -which are also the foundation of the Bordeaux industry.
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Vineyard dispersal, 1960-2010
Four maps – 1960, 1980, 1990 and 2010 – reveal a definite sequence in the evolution of the Hawke’s Bay vineyards (Figure 6.4), especially when their changing distribution is related to the soils and climate of the region. The sequence also reflects the role of different forms of enterprise that were beginning to participate in the wine filiere, especially grape growers from the early 1970s and, from the early 1980s, an increase in winegrowing enterprises owned by families. Beginning in the 1990s, but intensifying after 2000, the large corporate wine firms, some with access to capital and bold expansion plans from their new international owners, became particularly influential on the size and the location of new vineyards.
Gimblett Gravels soil profile. Gimblett Gravels Winegrowers Association
In 1960, most vineyards were on soils of moderate to low fertility. During the 1970s and into the 1980s, most new plantings were on the more fertile, fine and deep alluvial soils on the Heretaunga Plains where vines grew more vigorously and yields were high. Most landowners who became grape growers were on these soils. From the mid-to late 1980s, vines began to disperse again to sites where soils were less fertile and yields lower. These sites were the former riverbeds of the Ngaruroro in the Ngatarawa Triangle and the land west of Flaxmere that became known as Gimblett Gravels. Until the late 1980s, the large terraces further upstream along the Ngaruroro and Tutaekuri rivers saw few vines but in the last fifteen years these have been planted.
Alwyn Corban of Ngatarawa Wines Ltd captures the changing site selection from the finer alluvial soils to the gravels when he recounts: ‘Lots of the vineyards then [in the 1980s] were planted in quite heavy soil and were green much of the year with strong vegetative growth.’ Lurking beneath the surface of what appears to be a simple process are complex sets of learning about the vine environments of different regions of New Zealand including the accumulated experience of enterprises that had earlier faced similar decisions in Gisborne and Marlborough.
Three nodes of vines are evident in 1960 – Eskdale-Bay View, Greenmeadows and Te Awanga-Te Mata. The choice of these early sites was fortuitous as they all have soils of low to moderate fertility. In the lower Esk Valley are sandy loams with some patches of alluvium; in Greenmeadows, topsoils developed on clays; while much of the Te Mata locality of Havelock North has mainly loess over clays. In all cases, the